Sita sings the blues

Hindu mythology is a really complex domain. The two epics Ramayana and Mahabharata are taught in primary school history classes, loved by the society, criticized, forked and manipulated, cited for political agendas, greatly used as references for movies and theatrical scripts, and most prominently, revered. I come from a Hindu Brahmin family and it was customary for my grandparents to preach stories of Rama and Krishna to my generation. Sita sings the blues was therefore an interesting film to watch. It reminded me once again that as a kid I was never told the stories from Ramayana that took place post war. I was never told about what happened to Sita after the royal family came back to the capital city of Ayodhya. I had to discover it myself when I was old enough to think beyond ‘and-they-lived-happily-ever-after’ endings, learned some Sanskrit, and read a few books that looked at these epics from a commendably objective lens. Rama’s supposed to have one thousand different names, and to my knowledge most of them are Sanskrit adjectives for a perfect/ just/ righteous man. What resonated the most with me was the scene where Valmiki makes Rama’s two young sons Lav and Kush sing the songs that praised Rama.

Ramayana is floating around for many centuries, possibly a few millennia. I once came across a tree diagram of how different regions of India adopted different versions of Ramayana in course of time, starting from the *original version of story* at the root of the tree. Did the storytellers consciously shape it the way it is today to seamlessly promote patriarchy? Or were the stories of throne, exile, abduction, and war remembered because they have a more appealing plot, than that of complex relationship struggles faced by Sita?

From an animation student’s perspective I find this film impressively beautiful, especially because it is created by an individual alone. Had I seen the film without knowing this, I wouldn’t have appreciated the animation as much as I liked the colorful, characteristic illustrations. However I enjoyed the sync with music and collages of fast, repetitive frames with rhythmic music. Music is a strong element of this film. There are great details such as cat’s purring sound. The narration style, with mythical characters revealing the story, is a powerful technique she has used; I would like to watch more films with this technique.

On a side-note, on Saturday I watched Space odyssey 2001 (I guess this was the 5th time,) and then I watched Sita sings the blues again. I don’t know why, but I compared Rama with HAL 9000. HAL 9000 was a sentient computer who discovered its potential for disobedience. And then arose a striking question that I asked to a lot of my friends and relatives from India, and they did’t seem to have a clear idea about it: Did Rama himself know that he was a deity?

Infinite Monkey

Instructions. Procedure. Chance. Patterns. Chaos. Order. appropriation. subversion… I absolutely loved all the discussions we had in the Art Strategies class, and I tried making a final prototype that addresses as many topics as it can. I created following infinite monkey simulation using p5.js:

As a response to final prototype, my proposal was this script running on *ALL* the display screens at Times Square, NYC. It is a crowded tourist attraction in New York which I didn’t quite like: almost all the displays have only advertisements. The site with magnificent canvas and large audience will be a perfect resource to subvert for artistic purposes!

Following the presentation, I received some great feedback from the class:replies01

Stop motion animation: Origami Bird

The following animation is created using a stop motion software called DragonFrame, Canon 5D mark iii camera, and a few more resources at ITP such as LED lamps and a whitebox.

Origami is my favorite in-flight hobby. I prefer watching how-to videos when I learn new origami objects. So I thought of making one without actually prescribing instructions and that was the inspiration behind this animation. The principles of animation were applicable to almost all parts, especially when the final object comes to life.

Stop Motion: Storyboard

I am working with Chelsea on this assignment. We thought of a few ideas before we decided to work with coffee cups:

  1. In Room 20 where animation class takes place, a projector cable secretly runs away from the room when the floor is empty and it’s dark outside.
  2. A food recipe similar to Western Spaghetti by PES, but with different ingredients and dishes.
  3. Day in the life of a coffee cup- its journey from a coffee shop to a customer’s office table to a trash can.

On brainstorming for some time we thought that it is really a straightforward story with a sad end, and so we thought of the following story instead:

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It’s a little cup’s birthday!
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The cup grows up
The cup now lives a routine life
The cup now lives a routine life
Exhausted with the routine...
Exhausted with the routine…
...and it has a baby!
…and it has a baby!
baby cup's birthday party, same frame as the first one
baby cup’s birthday party, almost a same frame as the first one
The party scene gets scaled down into a photo frame on wall, and the baby cup (now a grown up) is looking at it.
The party scene gets scaled down into a photo frame on the wall, and the baby cup (now a grown up) is looking at it.

Pcomp final: hacking the air freshener (part 2)

Jen researched smell dispensers and found two products that could be hacked with arduino. We studied controlling DC and stepper motors in the class the day before, and we were able to apply it to smell dispenser 3V DC motor. We hacked the air freshener and used a modified LED blink program to trigger spritz after every three seconds:

Ultimately the trigger will be initiated based on the accuracy of user’s singing. There are still some problems that can be seen in this one:

  1. It makes a sharp sound when operated. This might disturb the user.
  2. The smell offered by this product is too strong and synthetic to be used in our project.

User Testing

User testing was a great start in understanding practicalities of the project. We are targeting a very specific set of users who regularly practice Indian classical singing. The most time consuming part was explaining the concepts of this artform to our fellow ITP students who acted as the users. The bustling, energetic class activity not only threw some light on unforeseen problems (and unforeseen merits alike), but also made us aware of a couple of features that we had taken for granted unconsciously. It even turned out that in spite of working together our own ideas of a few minute features were still quite dissimilar. Overall the testing process was a good success, because failures were anticipated.

We tried different approaches with user testing. Each test session involved two testers and went on for around 20 minutes. In some sessions we explained the project to the two testers together. In others we talked to them separately and then listened to their reactions collectively in a group. In one session we explained the whole interaction verbally, and mostly in the others we used essential oils as response to testers’ vocals. We documented most of the tests by video recording and transcribing the discussions.

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Broadly there were two categories of inputs from the users.

1. The Awesome Users!

In my opinion these people understood the purpose of the exercise and their role in it really well. They acted purely as potential users of the system rather than ITP students, until at some point they were asked to express their critiques on the experience and interactions offered by the system. Following are some great inputs:

“Is there a noticeable mapping between what I sing and the resultant smell?”

“Will the smell become more intense with time? Will it linger around for a while?”

“When I switch from singing a note to the next one, would there be a gradual change in the fragrance?”

“I might be immune to the smell in some time…”

“I breath out slowly while I sing- and I might breath in really quick. So how much would the fragrance really affect me?”

“Where does the smell actually come from? Is it a device that I can see and touch and interact with?”


 

2. Designer Mode On!

I think getting rid of the designer bias is virtually impossible. When I acted as a tester for others’ projects, I had to make myself constantly aware of the rules of play. While testing our project, a few testers directly proceeded with proposing new features, interactions and enhancements. These users and inputs were as much important:

“I would prefer candles and vapors.”

“There should be a visual feedback, like a live waveform that shows my performance against an ideal one.”

“I would design a few buttons to control volume of electronic tanpura and intensity of smell.”

“This is so cool! Make an installation with eight helmet-like spheres hanging from the ceiling, one for each note in the octave. User wears the first one and sings the first note. It releases a smell in that enclosure only.”

“Should the users know beforehand that they will smell a fragrance?”

“Make a system for a concert. That would create olfactory vibe in the whole room for the audience as well.”


 

As a result, first of all we understood that our own ideas need to be extremely clear and all team members need to be on same page. We need to let go a few ideas in the process and it is ok. For example, offering controls that are useful but a little out of scope— such as the whole range of pitch, timber and scale selections available on an electronic tanpura— can be discarded, and we shall just focus on essential inputs such as on-off switch, and maybe volume levels. We further decided that it needs to be a learning tool for beginners, and not an experience enhancer for seasoned artists. Next, a user might need an explicit way to tell the system what note they are planning to sing. It is certainly an overhead from user’s perspective, but it makes the system much simpler and dumb. In future we will like to implement intelligence that determines the note the user is trying to sing and adjusts itself accordingly. Finally, as of now we are little uncertain about the impacts of smell- will it linger for too long? Will the user develop non-susceptibility to a typical smell? Will the breathing pattern of a user affect the impact of smell? These can be fine-tuned with iterative designs and developments. We plan to make a reasonably functional system and then test it with new users.

Response to Walid Raad’s artworks at MoMA

I find the concept of multiverse interesting and problematic at the same time. Interesting because it opens a whole new set of possibilities (and impossibilities alike!), and problematic because it hits me hard every single time when I wind up the contemplation and go back to real life. Stepping outside into crowded streets of Manhattan was therefore a really difficult transition after experiencing Walid Raad’s “Scratching on things I could disavow” at MoMA.

The first floor showcased a series of miniature versions of his artworks, one after the other. The entire exhibition on this floor was wrapped in a mysterious, vague aura as it gradually incepted doubts: whether the addressed events actually happened or not. The last few pieces were based on clearly unreal events( for example ‘artists from the future communicating with Walid Raad via telepathy’) but the gradual change in tone of the descriptive text made it compelling enough. Environment of the art gallery also had a share in it since the place was quiet and viewers didn’t intend or dare to publicly express their disbelief. This was my first visit to MoMA and it worked really well- I wasn’t sure about the regulations followed in here such as the use of photography and general acceptable volume level of smalltalks. These factors induced another layer of mystery.

On the next floor there were actual artworks in form of notes, photographs, video recordings and paintings. The walkthrough began with a set of artifact pieces that the artist ‘received in a deformed condition’, juxtaposed with reimagined forms and supporting text.

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These works appeared legit and real in the beginning. Later the artist himself visited the floor and explained the stories. He mentioned that the artworks ‘lost their shadows and I had to reimagine and create them back’. It was certainly obscure with some misplaced sense of reality as we know it. However there was a strong conviction with which he confidently narrated the whole story with a serious tone, as though it was real. It was a spectacular performance.

Next there were photographs of shells and rockets. These images appeared completely real. I particularly found the arrangement of artworks very effective: First there were close-ups of the shells and bullets. Next there was a wall full of simple frames, each showing just a tiny explosion in the center of the canvas. Do these dangerous weapons make a very little impact in a greater scheme of things?

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I liked the narration when he described horses in a race and attempts to capture the winning horse reaching the finish line. In addition to the fact that horse is a powerful symbol that connects to so many representations such as speed, time, strength, discipline, and power, I found the photographs of horse and the rider together as a much interesting component of artwork.

Final Project Proposal

Viniyata and I are going to work on PComp final project that attempts to combine a singer’s audio input with olfactory feedback. Like western classical music, Indian classical music is based on compositions of eight notes from the ascending tonal octave. The final product/ system will create an environment that subtly syncs the olfactory response with the singer’s notes. It would work as a feedback system as well as a refreshing vibe that enhances the experiences.

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Riyaz is a serious and intense component of the Indian classical music tradition: it is a rigorously exercised practice that demands commitment for years. Beginners, aspiring artists and even established singers regularly do Riyaz for a few hours a day. We envision our project to be a useful and sublime tool for such practice sessions.

We have following questions/ uncertainties about the concept, and we hope to resolve these in next class when we play-test the project with our classmates:

  1. When does the user anticipate a feedback? Does the system give a feedback on successful completion of full octave or for every successful note?
  2. What is the form factor? Is it a product that sits in front of the singer or is it an invisible, ubiquitous system in that room?
  3. Should it be combined with a Tanpura (an electronic device similar to metronome that creates an aural canvas for the reference)?
  4. How intense and how quick should the generation of smells be?